Insights by Goldie: Earth Day: Reflections on lapsed good habits — and renewing efforts

by Goldie Caughlan

This article was originally published in April 2007

I can, and will do a better job of caring for the Earth.

I’ve been following the increasingly gloomy forecasts of drastically shifting worldwide weather patterns. I’m convinced that most of the greenhouse gases that are projected to wreak havoc are the result of human activities.

I introduced my thoughts in this column last month (March Sound Consumer, The times and climate are changing — and so must we).

So I’ve been seriously reflecting on my own habits, attempting a personal audit. I began by thinking: I’m deeply concerned about the issues, well informed on the environmental and health consequences of inaction, socially conscious and generally very pro-active. And yet, I’m seeing there is a disconnect between my “intellectual” understanding of the need for drastic societal measures and actually activating personal behavior changes — even at the most basic levels.

I’m just at the beginning, looking at the ingrained habits and attitudes that somehow permit me (us) to continue to miss simple, little — but potentially powerful — opportunities to live more responsibly.

Given the facts of dwindling planetary resources and the terrible toll of wasting oil for plastics or forests for paper sacks, it makes no sense that I would ever not take re-usable shopping containers to any store — especially when grocery shopping. Re-usables include canvas, cloth, net, nylon or sturdy plastic bags, such as the great purple bag available for $1.50 at PCC (that is made of 100 percent recycled plastics kept out of a landfill).

I can bring back used paper or plastic bags or bring cardboard boxes for heavy items; PCC credits five cents from my bill each time I don’t use a new paper or plastic bag. I own about a dozen sturdy bags and a couple of baskets, usually have several in the trunk of my car, so I’ve really no excuse.

And yet, in monitoring my own habits recently, I realize that I probably remember to take my bags into the store only about two out of three times that I go shopping. Other times, after I’ve taught a PCC class in the store, I make a few unplanned purchases and don’t have my bag handy. Because I’m in a hurry or tired or it’s pouring rain outside — whatever the excuse — I don’t always walk back to the car to fetch my bags.

I’ve found myself thinking, “Oh, just this time won’t matter,” and I take a new plastic bag. But now I’m reflecting, “How lame is that excuse? I at least could have bought another one of the purple re-usable bags.”

When I want a cup of coffee or tea in the store, I admit, I usually don’t go back to my car to get my travel mug — in part because I remember to bring it from home only about half the time.

When I buy soup or salad from the deli, do I always have a re-usable container for it? No, and I’m not happy to admit that I’ve not formed the habit (yet!) of keeping a clean set in my car, or tucked into my back-pack or purse. There are, after all, reminder signs posted right by the delis, which encourage me to do so and offer me a 10 cent discount if I bring my own container.

I honestly can’t imagine why I’ve never considered the common sense and power of such “small” acts, replacing a “disposable” (which is a misnomer) with a reusable. As with reusable bags or personal beverage cups, mindfully choosing a reusable is a powerfully intentional act because it requires effort and planning.

Each repetition sends a strong reinforcing message to the brain (and the heart, I believe). Indeed, such seemingly “small” acts are powerful, positive, silent, practical and gentle examples for all who witness them. And as we ingrain habits … drops of water a torrent make.

My pledge to Mother Earth this Earth Day and every day: I know better, and I can and will do a better job of caring for you.

Also in this issue

News bites, April 2007

Wanted: Organic livestock feed, New farmer health insurance relies on collective bargaining, Watercress reduces cancer risk?, and more

Your co-op, April 2007

Talk to the Board, 2007 Election begins this month, Election volunteers needed, and more